A hot start on the football field has carried over into UK’s recruiting efforts with three new commitments for the class of 2019 in the past week.
Mark Stoops has certainly noticed his team’s 4-0 record make an off-the-field impact.
“Definitely,” he said Tuesday. “I feel like we’ve been on the cusp of having a strong year this whole recruiting cycle, and this is doing nothing but helping us.”
The Cats now have a total of 18 commitments for next year — all of those players will be eligible to officially sign with UK in December — and their class standing has improved to No. 31 nationally in the Rivals.com rankings and No. 37 overall in the 247Sports rankings.
Kentucky still has several spots to fill in its 2019 class, with in-state target Wandale Robinson among a handful of talented prospects that could bump the Cats’ ranking even more. The Cats are expected to host more of their top targets Saturday night against South Carolina, and Stoops is hoping the raucous Kroger Field environment from last weekend carries over to future home games.
“It’s hard to quantify how much that will help, because it will help a great deal,” he said. “It will change many things. It’s what’s expected in this league. That’s the standard that we need to have, because it makes a difference. Not only with our football team and how we play, but also in recruiting.”
Here’s a position-by-position look at where UK’s class stands right now with a glance at how each commitment fits alongside next season’s projected roster (all rankings are 247Sports composite):
Amani Gilmore: The Louisiana native committed to UK shortly after attending Saturday night’s victory over Mississippi State. Though classified by 247Sports as a pro-style QB, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound prospect is a true dual-threat player with the ability to make plays with his feet and with his arm. He sat out the 2017 season after transferring high schools and is off to a hot start to his senior season. Tennessee was his other major offer. (No. 46 pro-style QB).
Nik Scalzo: The Cats’ original QB commitment for the 2019 class can also make plays through the air or on the ground. The Florida native is a little undersized — about 5-11 — for the position, but he possesses a grit and winning attitude that attracted plenty of recruiting attention over the summer. This season, Scalzo is 81-for-131 for 1,163 yards, nine touchdowns and just one interception through five games. (No. 21 dual-threat QB).
Outlook: The Cats have four scholarship QBs on the roster: sophomores Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak, and redshirt freshmen Danny Clark and Walker Wood. The quarterback position is one where transfers are always a possibility, and that will be one scenario to watch following this season. Wood has also often been mentioned as a candidate to play other positions, though he’s worked exclusively with the QBs this fall.
Travis Tisdale: This guy is looking like a steal for the Cats, who secured his commitment back in June and have watched him run all over the field this fall. Tisdale — a 5-9 prospect from Valdosta, Ga. — has 85 carries for 1,097 yards and 16 touchdowns in just six games this season. He also has 11 catches for 131 yards, plus an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. (No. 43 RB).
Outlook: Sihiem King is a senior this fall, and Benny Snell could very well leave for the NFL Draft, so the Cats will have spots to fill in the backfield. AJ Rose is set to return for his junior season, and UK has a pair of talented true freshmen in Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke. The Cats are still looking for another running back to add to the 2019 class.
Demonate Crumes: The Louisville native was once committed to U of L before switching his commitment to UK during the summer. A 6-1, 165-pound prospect, Crumes has 18 catches for 514 yards and eight touchdowns in six games for Butler this season. (No. 88 WR).
DeMarcus Harris: One of the more underrated players in UK’s class — Rivals still has him as a two-star recruit — Harris is a 6-2 receiver from Florida who has already amassed 28 catches for 574 yards and eight touchdowns in five games this season. (No. 151 WR).
Outlook: The Cats will lose seniors Dorian Baker and David Bouvier to graduation after this season but look to bring back several talented players, including leading receiver Lynn Bowden and a number of young contributors. Four-star recruit Wandale Robinson remains the Cats’ biggest WR target.
Nikolas Ognenovic: A high school teammate of QB commit Nik Scalzo, he has the size (6-6, 235 pounds) for the position and will add another big body to Vince Marrow’s tight end room. Ognenovic has seven catches for 115 yards in five games this season and should also be an effective blocker at the next level. (No. 29 TE).
Outlook: UK will suffer a big loss with senior CJ Conrad, but the Cats are still projected to return junior Justin Rigg and highly touted true freshmen Brenden Bates and Keaton Upshaw. Bates has already seen time this fall, while Upshaw is out for the 2018 season with an injury.
Eli Cox: An in-state commitment, Cox is a standout prospect at West Jessamine High School who projects as an interior lineman at the college level. The 6-4, 295-pounder is all in with his pledge. “UK is my home team and I love seeing the program building more excitement these past couple years,” he told the Herald-Leader when he committed. (No. 64 OG).
Jake Pope: A 6-7, 275-pound tackle from Florida, he picked UK over reported scholarship offers from Michigan State and Virginia Tech early in the process and should bring lots of upside with him to Lexington. (No. 116 OT).
Outlook: The Cats will lose senior starters George Asafo-Adjei and Bunchy Stallings but look to return several offensive linemen with ample experience. The depth across the line should give UK’s 2019 newcomers a chance to redshirt and ease into the college game.
Cavon Butler: His national ranking doesn’t quite reflect it, but Butler is a big-time recruit that received a legitimate scholarship offer from Alabama this fall and chose the Cats over that program. The 6-3 tackle projects best as a “three-technique” lineman in college, but UK will need to stay on him throughout the process. The Ohio native has said he plans to take other visits. (No. 57 DT).
Isaiah Gibson: The Cats landed a commitment from Gibson — one of their top remaining targets — last week, besting Wisconsin and Purdue for the talented lineman. The Ohio native projects as a defensive tackle at the college level, though 247Sports’ Bill Greene recently wrote that he has the potential to be an NFL player at the center position. (No. 38 DT).
Taures Payne: A junior-college transfer, Payne measures at 6-4 and 260 pounds and will have two years to play two seasons of football at Kentucky. Through four games with Northwest Mississippi CC this season, he has 16 tackles and leads the team with 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three QB hurries, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. (No. 3 juco strongside DE).
Outlook: UK will lose senior interior linemen Tymere Dubose and Adrian Middleton but should return several key contributors from this season’s team, including Quinton Bohanna, TJ Carter, Phil Hoskins, Kordell Looney and Marquan McCall. Still, there should be an opportunity for immediate playing time for the newcomers.
Marquez Bembry: Originally a Tennessee commitment in the 2017 class, Bembry went the juco route and is now committed to Kentucky. The highly athletic 6-3, 225-pound prospect is expected to have three years to play three seasons for the Cats. He has 12 tackles and three tackles for loss in four juco games this fall and projects as an outside linebacker. (No. 1 juco athlete).
KD McDaniel: An early commitment, McDaniel is the Cats’ second highest-ranked pledge for the 2019 class. The 6-2, 225-pound prospect projects as an outside linebacker at the next level and could play the “jack” linebacker spot at UK. Other schools will continue recruiting the Georgia native up until signing day, but he appears to be solid with the Cats. (No. 33 OLB).
Tra Wilkins: The 6-2, 210-pound prospect from Georgia has played both inside and outside as a high school linebacker and could do the same at UK, which targeted him early in the 2019 cycle. He took an official visit to Louisville three weeks before committing to the Cats. (No. 46 ILB).
Outlook: UK loses edge rushers Josh Allen and Kengera Daniel and longtime starter Jordan Jones in the middle, but the Cats should bring back Kash Daniel, Boogie Watson, Jamin Davis, Chris Oats, DeAndre Square and some other contributing players.
Moses Douglass: The son of former UK star Maurice Douglass is the highest-ranked player in the Cats’ recruiting class and projects as an impact safety at the college level. The 6-2, 200-pound prospect is also the only four-star commitment in UK’s class and has said that he will not take official visits to any other schools. (No. 37 safety).
Brandin Echols: The Cats’ most recent commitment, Echols announced his college choice less than 24 hours after watching UK defeat Mississippi State at Kroger Field on Saturday night. The junior-college prospect could be an instant contributor at cornerback next season. Through four games with Northwest Mississippi CC this fall, he has 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and leads the team with two interceptions and five pass breakups. (No. 5 juco CB).
Jalen Geiger: Though not highly ranked by the national recruiting services, Geiger was high on UK’s recruiting board going into the summer after emerging as one of the program’s top cornerback targets this year. The 6-1, 190-pound prospect plays high school ball in South Carolina and has ties to the state of Ohio. (No. 115 CB)
Jay Ward: The Georgia native could end up being the steal of the class for UK, which landed his commitment in June and has enjoyed seeing him tear up the competition as a senior this fall. The 6-1, 175-pound cornerback has earned praise from recruiting analysts for his physical play and projects as a high-upside player in college. More scholarship offers could be coming his way, but Ward recently told Rivals.com that he’s firmly committed to the Cats. (No. 90 CB).
Outlook: The Cats lose a lot here — starters Derrick Baity, Mike Edwards, Lonnie Johnson, Darius West and Chris Westry are all seniors and will be out of eligibility this fall. That means there will be ample opportunity to earn playing time, though UK will also return several talented defensive backs, including Davonte Robinson, Jordan Griffin, Tyrell Ajian, Yusuf Corker, Michael Nesbitt and some highly touted players from the 2018 signing class.
Outlook: UK does not have any commitments and is not expected to add any scholarship players at these positions. Starting punter Max Duffy is a sophomore this season, and the Cats signed their kicker of the future, Chance Poore, in the 2018 class.